Catherine’s Reflection

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In the Ministry of Ontario (2013) document on Inquiry-Based Learning, one of the questions posed as a great challenge of education today is something that personally stands out to me: "How can we provide opportunities for students to move beyond being passive recipients of knowledge to become knowledge builders, capable of creative and innovative solutions to problems?" (p. 1) From what I’ve come across in Teacher’s College, teaching placements and actual teaching experience, I have always struggled to see or implement such opportunities and for the most part, ended up “textbook teaching” due to curriculum constraints or school preferences. However, this week’s readings, particularly HWDSB’s Transforming Learning Everywhere Model, call for a transformation of classrooms, relationships and learning opportunities, which is encapsulated through the New Pedagogies Model.

According to Fullan & Langworthy (2014), there are three core components of this New Pedagogies Model, which will be further explored under the following headings.

New learning partnerships between and among teachers and students

The reality of 21st Century Education is that students constantly engage and remain up-to-date with the newest technology, whether they are in the form of apps, games, mobile devices and others. Yet, classrooms today still are not incorporating the meaningful use of these digital technologies with high learning potentials. This, in part, is due to teachers’ personal reluctance, unfamiliarity and negative associations with technology. Consequently, Malloy (2014) warns teachers that “if [they] are supporting students to learn in both the physical learning environment and the digital learning environment, educators must be comfortable learning in these two worlds as well” (p. 2). This really hits home just because I was one of these teachers who never considered herself technologically-savvy or digitally-adept (despite my youth), especially since my past mentor teachers taught quite traditionally themselves, using the new SMART boards as extended bulletin displays. However, since I began my M.Ed in September and have taken a Multimodal Literacies course, I have learned about the importance and benefits of ludic epistemology/play and constructionism towards meaningful student learning and how becoming more open to learning from the students about these technologies can assist in how I can use technology in a healthy way that will certainly benefit, if not, drive student engagement and learning.

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Similarly, in a reference to Will Richardson, Fullan & Langworthy (2014) emphasize how “teachers must be co-learners with kids, expert at asking great, open-ended questions and modelling the learning process required to answer those questions. Teachers should be master learners” (p. 14). Yet, this will definitely produce changes in the power dynamics within the classroom where student voice and knowledge concerning technology attain more power as their questions will drive their learning whereas teachers are encouraged to “let go of the reigns” a bit and learn from/with the students.

So, what is the role of the teacher then? While inquiry-based learning encourages student-driven learning, the Ministry of Ontario (2013) claims that educators still play an equally important role in the classroom as provocateurs in which they "must assume the role of helping children notice things that would not otherwise be seen as students’ thinking can be limited” (p. 5). In other words, teachers are distributing the responsibility of the students’ learning by including the students and their questions in the learning process, redefining the student-teacher relationship as one of equal partnership. Accordingly, the Ministry of Ontario (2013) asserts the need for inquiry-based learning in classrooms where “educators and students co-author the learning experience, accepting mutual responsibility for planning, assessment for learning and the advancement of individual as well as class-wide understanding of personally meaningful content and ideas” (p. 2).

Deep learning tasks that re-structure the learning process towards knowledge creation and purposeful use

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Malloy (2014) highlights the need for educators and students to develop “different learning opportunities both individually and collaboratively. Effective instruction and engagement in deep learning tasks remain our priority”(p. 6) Similar to Papert’s theory of “constructionism”, which contends that learners learn most effectively through the design process and by physically constructing artefacts to demonstrate their understanding the world around them, deep learning tasks must be provided in classrooms to engage students through discovering and mastering existing knowledge and then creating and applying this new knowledge to the world. Considering this, Fullan & Langworthy (2014) outline the goals of deep learning in which students “will gain the competencies and dispositions that will prepare them to be creative, connected and collaborative life-long problem solvers and to be holistic human beings who… create the common good in today’s world” (p. 2). How can this be done in the earlier grades, especially in Grade 1 and 2 classrooms where students are beginning to think and to become exposed to the world?

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With this in mind, Malloy (2014) argues why educators should prioritize inquiry-based learning: “It promotes student engagement because our students are at the centre of the process. We can provide inquiry based learning opportunities and still ensure that our students have foundational knowledge and skills” (p. 6). In fact, the Ministry of Ontario (2013) maintains that one benefit of IBL is the “practice of revisiting initial theories and ideas and reflecting on the ways in which current understanding differs from the former where students begin to experience learning as an ongoing process, not an end point” (p. 6). While I support IBL’s facilitation of learning as an ongoing process, it leaves me with a few questions, particularly with the amount of stress and workload that is added onto teachers since they must be more open and flexible when designing these lessons that are centred on the various diverse questions and interests that their students have. Also, if IBL implies that it is the students’ questions that drive their learning, how exactly can one teach with an inquiry approach when there is a plethora curriculum expectations to address? To answer this question, the Ministry of Ontario (2013) highlights the necessity for educators to have “a deep knowledge and understanding of the big ideas of the curriculum. This way, they are sensitive to the types of student cues that are likely to touch upon some of the overarching curriculum goals” (p. 3).

Digital tools and resources that enable and accelerate the process of deep learning

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According to Malloy (2014), “HWDSB is engaged in a process to enhance instruction, to invite students to engage in rich learning tasks and to rely on student voice to drive the learning environment in classrooms and through technology” (p. 1). Overlooking the HWDSB’s plan to provide every classroom with 1:1 technology is quite ambitious, especially since it is quite a costly undertaking. I mean, where would it get the funding to support every classroom in every school within the district? While Malloy (2014) claims that the HWDSB will “examine our present budget and change practice as necessary especially in terms of purchasing textbooks, workbooks and photocopying”, it seems like that will not be realistically enough to afford the realization of this plan, but it definitely is a great beginning.

In addition to making technology accessible for each student and teacher within the school, what about the teachers’ accessibility to technology outside the classroom? If teachers are encouraged and expected to incorporate technology into their lessons, do need to purchase their own technological devices, apps or games in order to explore and discover their affordances and possible connections to the curriculum and the students’ questions? I really think this is something important to think about. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree with Malloy (2014) when he states that “technology supports change in terms of the relationships in the classroom, the learning tasks in which students are involved and the assessment strategies that allow teachers to understand and enhance progress” (p. 2). Thus, serious changes must be made in our classrooms, relationships between students and teachers and the learning opportunities in order to make education today more relevant to the world that our students are living in.